Irish Republican Army supporters and hard-line Protestants gained strong backing from voters Friday in a special election setting the stage for long-delayed peace talks.
The IRA-allied Sinn Fein party won its highest-ever percentage of the Northern Ireland vote, trouncing its moderate Catholic rivals in west Belfast and making big inroads in Londonderry, the province's second-largest town.The vote represents a personal endorsement for Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and offers a clear demonstration of voter anger at Britain's cautious approach to the peace process.
With the exception of Sinn Fein, the top 10 parties have earned seats in a 110-member Belfast debating forum and are supposed to send smaller teams into negotiations.
Both the British and Irish governments insisted Friday that the IRA must restore the cease-fire it broke in February before Sinn Fein can join negotiations due to start June 10.
Adams, fresh from his triumph in west Belfast, demanded that the two governments let him into negotiations regardless of what the IRA does.